By Paul Tarricone
Sometimes, one’s vision of a radically altered future ends up being a bit premature. Periodicals such as LD+A can get caught up in this. But that comes with the territory—it’s the job of a publication like ours to be forward-looking, identify the bleeding edge and prognosticate on what might be just around the corner. When the prediction ends up being a little too rosy, you just have to own it.
Witness the topic of autonomous vehicles. Back in September 2016, LD+A ran a cover story titled “In a World Without Drivers,” in which lighting pros speculated on what self-driving vehicles could mean for our industry. There’s still time for what was discussed to come to fruition, but the clock is ticking. Noting IEEE’s forecast that 75% of vehicles sold in 2040 would be autonomous, one panelist quoted in our article surmised that with market penetration at that level, the primary role for street lighting would be to ensure pedestrian/cyclist safety and to create streetscape ambience.
Yet six years after our article, it seems reports on the rise of the self-driving car have been greatly exaggerated. A recent article in The Week titled “A Wrong Turn on the Way to Utopia” chronicled the overhyping of the autonomous car. Riding in these, one expert said, “means putting our faith in hardware and algorithms, and most of us aren’t ready to do that.” It’s clear, noted another observer after a test drive around Brooklyn, “that full self-driving” still needs “plenty of human intervention.”
So for the time being at least, the young, the elderly, truckers, Sunday drivers and everyone in between will continue to get behind the wheel, check the mirrors and start the engine. And that’s where we come in (never fear the IES is here!). Specifically, I refer to ANSI/IES RP-8-2021—an update of the Society’s roadway document that emphasizes the human factor along our streets, roadways, tunnels, et. al. Above all, the job of this 500-plus page tome, which rolls 12 previously separate roadway documents into one, is quite simply to save lives—both pedestrian and driver.
Testing on self-driving vehicles, of course, will continue and consumer acceptance may eventually follow. But until then, how we drive, walk and live on our streets and roadways will be guided by the human touch. And our community of lighting professionals will be there to shape the experience with a deft hand.